Are jumpsuits really what men want?
Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Lawrence and JLO have all been photographed wearing one. Hell, I bet even Malala Yousafzai, when she’s alone, polishing her Nobel Peace Prize, wears one. I’m talking about jumpsuits, which have lately become a womenswear staple. They have red-carpet-approved ones (Gigi Hadid wore a sequined one at the CFDA Fashion Awards), fishnet ones (Lady Gaga is the queen of sheer) and even denim ones (the ultimate Canadian tuxedo). They’re as ubiquitous as Stan Lee cameos in Marvel movies. But the trend itself wouldn’t really matter except for the fact that the one-piece as a feminine fashion statement is a total travesty.
Jumpsuit-wearing was once a man’s game. Test pilot Chuck Yeager wore one. Actor and race-car driver Steve Mcqueen too. Drs. Venkman, Stantz and Spengler—they all wore one. Okay, the last three are Ghostbusters, but you get the picture. Suiting up in a one-piece used to be a masculine endeavour. Wearing one transformed a man into somebody purposeful, serious, even superheroic. But now, through the power of female appropriation, the onesie has been reduced to style, fancy, just another fad. I’ll admit that what I’m about to say is irrational, territorial, even sexist, but jumpsuits have started to feel like a girl thing.
That’s why I report now with great confusion that the onepiece has boomeranged back into the male wardrobe. And it has done so under a cloud of gender and sexual confusion. Balmain, Band of Outsiders and Belstaff all featured jumpsuits on the fall runways (and that’s just the “B” labels). Belstaff’s all-leather motorcycle version comes with a kinky edge; 3.1 Phillip Lim’s parachute-inspired one with a stand collar has a flowy, I’m-not-wearing-anything-underneath allure. Then there’s Kenzo’s interpretation. Its trim silhouette in drab olive with dark contrasting panels on the shoulders and chest is both futuristic and militaristic. It’s something you could wear if, say, your day job was to repair giant, Kaiju-battling robots.
In other words, guys, while the jumpsuit has come back, it’s different. Designers have carved out a spot for it on the catwalk, and in so doing have basically signalled the end of its purely utilitarian days. Because of that, and its unwavering status as a hot item in womenswear, the jumpsuit—once meant for fighting, flying and getting down and dirty—may never be manly again. At least, that’s what I’ve hypothesized.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I personally don’t adhere to traditional male ways of dress. Sure, I’m known for wearing suits and bow ties, both a mark of conservatism, but I also like to push the envelope. I might not be the onesie-wearing type, but I’ve been known to tie silk kerchiefs around my bare neck; I’ve even dared to wear seersucker shorts and a blazer to work. I’m not a square or a stiff, yet sometimes I do want my menswear to be menswear, my clothes to be clothes. If I did wear a jumpsuit, I would want it to be just a jumpsuit, not a fashion statement. An experiment was in order. I didn’t own a jumpsuit, so I checked around. I couldn’t find any at the men’s boutiques because the fall collections hadn’t yet been stocked, so I headed to a women’s shop. I tried to be low key as I browsed the skirts and billowy blouses. I saw some maxidresses hanging on a rack and thought maybe they’d be there. They weren’t. So I wandered into the lingerie section when a young sales clerk approached me with a phone in her hand. She said, “Can I help you?”
I cleared my throat and, with my most non-pervy voice, said, “I was told you have jumpsuits.” “We don’t have any for men.” “But I heard you, ahem, have some for women.” She nodded and fussed with her phone. Was she calling 911? “They’re one-size-fits-all. How tall is she?” “It’s for me.” She fiddled with her phone again. “It’s for an experiment,” I added.
The garment she handed me was made of black poplin. It had a zip front, a shirt collar and long sleeves. As I walked to the changing room, I thought about German anti-terrorist units. They wore black jumpsuits, didn’t they? I thought about the unity of the top and the bottom, like the coat of a panther, the body rippling underneath, stealthy yet ready for definitive, explosive action.